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Thread: Hereditary musical ability?

  1. #1 Hereditary musical ability? 
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    I was talking to a couple of musicians I know, as usual almost all of them have family musical backgrounds.
    I am a bassist (so is my sister) but none of my parents are musical, in fact none of my family members really play any instruments.

    In many ways, from my perspective I feel like musical ability is mostly nurtured and has nothing to do with heredity.
    But yet again when I listen to music, I almost never pay attention to the lyrics, instead I tune in entirely on the drum/bass track and sometimes I even whistle a complementary track to the song. I did that all without knowledge of any musical theories, I was never "nurtured" musically.

    Instead, music is the kind of thing that just occurred to me one day that I should pick up a bass and start mimicking the bassist in the cd. I started performing within 7 months of picking up the instrument and people were asking me how many years have I played. I just find it weird how almost every musician (including my sister)I know started their career through musical education, formal or informal.
    Is deliberate musical education really the only way to make a musician out of a person?

    So what do you think?
    Is music something naturally in all of us just waiting for it to be discovered or is it a foreign concept introduced through means of deliberate societal interference (ex.family background) or purely by heredity?


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  3. #2  
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    Musical excellence is a function of how much work you do. But there are notable differences in innate ability.

    I am less than 2 years older than my sister, so when she started learning piano my mother had quite recently heard all those little exercises that novice 6 year olds play. But after a few weeks, her piano practice sounded a bit odd. Tactful mother just went into the living room to watch without comment. However, she was obliged to ask why sis was playing 'that way'. Long story short, having started with lots of 5 finger exercises where the hands didn't move across the keyboard, little sister had decided that the easiest way to play was to transpose every note back into the 9 note span her two little hands covered. I could never have read the music and reacted so fast to play notes an octave away the way she did. She seemed to think there was nothing to it, and was a bit put out that more effort, as in using more of the keyboard, was the right thing to do. If you needed anyone to sing in harmony, she did that effortlessly.

    But she gave it up. I was the musical one as far as anyone outside the family knew.


    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
    "nature is like a game of Jenga; you never know which brick you pull out will cause the whole stack to collapse" Lucy Cooke
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  4. #3  
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    Is music something naturally in all of us just waiting for it to be discovered or is it a foreign concept introduced through means of deliberate societal interference (ex.family background) or purely by heredity?
    Well, this is the old debate about nature versus nurture. My opinion is that the two components are important and complementary in musical training. Obviously, you need some natural inclination and taste for music in order to spend an important part of your time learning and practicing an instrument. But on other side, living in a family where everybody is playing an instrument may urge yourself to learn : a friend of mine, aged 55, just started learning the sax because his three children where playing music in the family house.

    Like you, I started to play an instrument (the guitar, in my case) in an intuitive manner when I was a teen. Nobody was a musician in my family, but fifty years later I am still playing daily because it is just a natural necessity for me.

    Now, let see the nurture side : when I was thirty, I decided to learn the piano and took lessons with some teachers for a few years. Not only did they teach me some of the technical side of the instrument, but they also open my mind to many composers I had never heard before like Bela Bartok or Serge Prokofiev. I started to go regularly to classical concerts and to study the basis of harmony, composition and orchestration.

    I have two daughters. One learned the piano and was reasonably gifted but gave up because her husband did not like "noise" : Environment can have negative effects, too. My other daughter gave a couple of try to music but gave up rapidly : she did not have a real taste for music.

    So, my personal thinking is that it is not “nature versus nurture” but nature and nurture jointly that are necessary to build a musician.

    I have a personnal hypothesis that people dealing with maths or computer science are more prone to have a natural inclination for music. Is it your case ?
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  5. #4  
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    Quote Originally Posted by caKus View Post
    [I have a personnal hypothesis that people dealing with maths or computer science are more prone to have a natural inclination for music. Is it your case ?
    I think the link between mathematical and musical ability has been recognised for a century or two.

    I agrre with you, that as with most skills, there is a mix of both nurture and nature. I expect before too long we shall be able to identify exactly what that mix is.
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